The 'truth' hurts: how the fact-checking press gives the president a pass.

AuthorWelch, Matt
PositionFrom the Top - Cover story

FOR MANY IN THE MEDIA, the crowning moment of the Republican Party's long, campaign-accelerated slide into full-blown, fact-free delusion came on election night just after Fox News called the state of Ohio--and therefore the election--for President Barack Obama. Fox contributor Karl Rove, formerly the Svengali behind George W. Bush and currently the head of the influential Crossroads GPS political action committee, forcefully disputed the projection as numerically "premature." Exasperated co-anchor Megyn Kelly retorted, "Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better, or is this real?"

Then Kelly got up from her desk and, cameras rolling, walked down several hallways to the networks team of number crunchers, who confidently explained and reasserted their decision. Rove was undeterred.

"I'm just saying in terms of public perception, it looks a little odd for us to be making a call with 991 votes separating the candidates," he said. Kelly shot back: "But you know how the science works!"

If there was one overarching journalistic theme of the 2012 election, it was the alleged Republican war on science, math, and basic facts, as called out by a newly emboldened political press. A proliferation of "fact-checking" enterprises at various mainstream media outlets, combined with an increasing willingness to abandon what New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan in September called the "false balance" of "giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side," produced a nearly consensus conclusion: "Let's Just Say it: Republicans Are the Problem."

That was the headline on an April Washington Post op-ed piece by longtime Beltway think tankers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, adapted from their book It's Even Worse Than It Looks (Basic Books). These Washington insiders, after decades of evenhanded analysis, had finally seen enough. "The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics," they concluded. "It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country's challenges."

Finally, the he-said, she-said profession was naming out loud what the press critic Jay Rosen had long referred to as the "asymmetry" between Republican and Democratic truthfulness. Competing fact checkers were now pouncing on hyperbolic claims at GOP presidential debates. Bookstores were filling up with titles like The Republican Brain: The...

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